CARACAS – Venezuela’s security forces have arrested at least 102 members of the armed forces for alleged crimes such as rebellion and abandonment of duty since a wave of protests began against President Nicolás Maduro’s government in early April, according to apparent military documents obtained by a news agency.
The majority of the soldiers are being held in Ramo Verde prison outside Caracas, according to the lists provided by an army official on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
While 13, including two army captains, were listed on charges of rebellion and treason, the large majority were reportedly being held for less serious offenses such as desertion, abandonment of duty and theft of military property that nonetheless point to a larger problem of indiscipline within the armed forces.
The lists appear to lend credence to claims that as Venezuela’s crisis deepens, the military is facing growing signs of doubt among soldiers. Maduro has been leaning on the armed forces to crush almost-daily protests that have left at least 90 people dead and hundreds injured or arrested.
All the soldiers were reportedly arrested before June 14, and it’s impossible from the registries to know details of any of the individual cases.
The news agency could not independently verify the authenticity of the lists, but they came from a well-placed source.
The Defense Ministry didn’t reply to an email request seeking comment.
Exclusive: At least 123 Venezuelan soldiers detained since protests – documents https://t.co/RqP3g6oyiV pic.twitter.com/P8t2iiHXq3
— Reuters Venezuela (@ReutersVzla) 6 de julio de 2017
Publicly, there’s been little sign of dissent on the part of the top military brass. Maduro since taking office in 2013 has greatly expanded the military’s power, giving it control over the importation of food and key ministerial posts. He now appears almost daily on TV decorating top officials or standing for hours shaking hands at ceremonies to promote even mid-level officers.
But cracks have started to appear, and many lower-ranking officers — and their extended families — are sharing the painful consequences of triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages.
In April, a lieutenant in a restive western state cut up his official military ID card as supporters cheered. Then three lieutenants publicly rejected Maduro as commander in chief and fled to Colombia.
“There’s saber-rattling in the barracks,” one of the lieutenants, Jose Alejandro Mendez, told Blu Radio in an interview from exile. “Different cells exist, some independently and others working in a more coordinated manner, but certainly there’s a search underway to resolve the conflict the country is experiencing.”
The most dramatic incident occurred on June 27, when a police inspector stole a helicopter, fired on the supreme court and Interior Ministry buildings and posted videos on social media calling for a revolt among the security forces.
There have been no signs of any uprising in response, however, and the attack caused no damage or injuries.
Maduro has repeatedly warned of coup efforts. During a military parade last week, he warned newly installed officers against being recruited by an unnamed former officer he and the late Hugo Chavez once trusted of trying to orchestrate a coup with the support of the CIA.
Rather than promote a coup, the opposition claims it wants the military to hold its fire and allow them to exercise their democratic right to protest.
Venezuela’s defense minister was even more emphatic that any coup attempt would be futile.
“There’s lots of people looking for some gorillas, some little Rambos, here in the armed forces,” Vladimir Padrino said in a video posted on social media this week. “They’re not going to find them.”